The Vital Role of Accelerated Learning

When students and their teachers return to classrooms for the 2021–22 school year, they will be challenged by the disruptions to learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prioritizing grade-level standards and focusing instructionally embedded assessments and formative assessment practices on current grade-level standards will accelerate student learning. This strategy, used during grade-level instruction, can avoid the loss of valuable time identifying what was not taught last year, and it provides the most effective option for addressing incomplete learning.

A Plan is a Must

Accelerating student learning requires just-in-time support to students that is planned in intentional and practical ways. Acceleration does not mean speeding through content to cover more ground; rather, it means intentionally supporting students with knowledge and skills where they need it, so they can continue with grade-level work. This support may include tutoring, small group instruction, regularly scheduled intervention blocks of focused learning, and the use of data to determine the level of mediation needed for each situation.

Identify Which Learning is Essential for Success

Accelerated learning keeps students moving forward on their intended grade-level trajectories by strategically preparing them for success in current grade-level content. Acceleration focuses on teaching only what must be learned, at a given level, instead of trying to teach everything that a student did not learn in a previous grade or grades. Acceleration requires teachers to identify crucial content that they need to teach and that students need to learn so that students can access current grade-level material.

“Delaying access to grade level work until all missing learning is remediated can move students backwards.”

Don’t Let Unfinished Learning Postpone All New Learning

Acceleration prepares students for new learning combined with “just-in-time” teaching of missing key skills and concepts, in the purposeful context of current lessons. Opportunities to accelerate learning rely on robust grade-level instruction that includes grade-appropriate assignments. This robust instruction should be enhanced with supports targeted to the skills and services students need to stay on grade level. Supports are based on what students know and what they need for upcoming lessons based on clear grade-level learning goals for those lessons.

There is a strong tendency for schools, based on past practice, to want to remediate student learning gaps and delay access to grade-level work until all the missing learning is remediated. Unfortunately, research shows that this approach moves students backwards by continuing to widen the academic gap between students who are being remediated and their grade-level peers (Rollins, 2014).

Acceleration prepares students for new learning combined with “just-in-time” teaching of missing key skills and concepts in the purposeful context of current lessons.

Focus on Essential Skills

What are Essential Skills?

Essential skills are the core concepts and skills that students need to know deeply so that they are ready for the next grade level. Essential skills act as the building blocks for coherent learning trajectories, curricula, and assessments that support grade-level instruction for students.

“Prioritize the knowledge and skills students will need just in time for an upcoming unit.”

Why Focus on Essential Skills?

Teaching grade-level content to all students, while identifying students who need additional support, can help students remain on track (Lynch & Hill, 2020). By focusing on core ideas or concepts, educators allow students to develop a deep understanding of these important concepts and avoid superficial coverage of disconnected topics. In other words, curriculum supports mastery and understanding of fundamental ideas. “We know that the longer a student is engaged with content and the more deeply they are invited to think about it, the more likely they will be to retain it for future use” (Boudreau, 2020).

Educators should identify the progression of essential knowledge and skills that need to be taught and assessed. Then, they can prioritize the knowledge and skills students need “just in time” for an upcoming unit. From there, they can start to fill in gaps and scaffold learning for students into the unit, versus trying to teach all the knowledge and skills a student may have missed in the previous grade.

Begin with grade level instruction and assess as you go. Start students with new grade level content and move them forward based on information gathered through the formative assessment process. Work from grade-level standards and use formative assessment practices to identify student assets and needs to accelerate learning.

“Formative assessment should be a valuable tool to accelerate growth, not a gatekeeper to grade level content.”

Moving Students Forward with Formative Assessment

  • Clarify your purpose. It is important to be explicit about the purpose for the assessment and how the data will be used.
  • Explain that the purpose is to optimize instruction, highlight learning targets, and help students set goals.
  • Determine how the information will be used. Actionable information is central to high-quality assessment. If data from the assessment cannot be acted upon and/or if there is no plan to provide feedback to teachers and students to inform instruction and improve learning, then the assessment becomes an empty activity

Assessment of Prioritized Grade-Level Standards

  • Assessments should be used to determine how to bring students into grade-level instruction, not whether to bring them into it. Assessments should not be used as a gatekeeper to grade level content.
  • The formative assessment process is a valuable tool to support and accelerate learning and growth; it should be used.
  • Targeted checks using instructionally embedded assessments will support instruction.
  • Be cognizant of students’ social, physical, and emotional well-being.

Supplemental Curriculum Tools Set the Stage for Accelerated Learning

Moving Forward while Addressing Unfinished Learning

The integrated tools of Coach Digital Compass move students forward in grade-level instruction, while the prescribed pathways in Catch Up with Coach focus on missing priority skills needed to succeed at grade level.

Remediation of Priority Skills, Not All Skills

Catch Up with Coach, Math and ELA, grades 3-8, covers priority skills. The Lesson Planner for each grade serves as a table of contents for the priority skills covered in the lessons. Skills that do not transfer to succeeding grades, or are not essential, are not covered.

Reporting Suggests Next Steps on the Path to Proficiency

Reports in Coach Digital Compass and Catch Up with Coach provide recommendations for additional instruction and practice for students scoring below the teacher-selected proficiency score. This feedback provides a path to move students forward toward achieving grade-level mastery.

Planning Checklist for 2021-2022 School Year

  • Prioritize instructional standards for the school year.
  • Identify the essential skills needed for just-in-time learning of current grade-level content.
  • Implement instructional approaches to meet the range of student needs as they return to school in the fall.
  • Design new or use existing pre-assessments.
  • Use results from pre-assessments to inform instruction.
  • Use targeted, ongoing checks to support instruction.


Recovery Project at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University has published a series of research briefs in five categories: Student Learning, School Climate, Supporting All Students, Teachers and Leaders, and Finances and Operations.
Boudreau, E. (2020, April 8). The Applied Science of Learning. Retrieved from Usable Knowledge:
Darling-Hammond, L., Schachner, A., Edgerton, A., et al (2020). Restarting and reinventing school: Learning in the time of COVID and beyond. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from
Hirsh, Stephanie (2020). How to Accelerate Learning for All Students in the 2020–21 School Year, Carnegie Corporation,
Lynch, K., & Hill, H. (2020, July). Broad-Based Academic Support for All Students, Retrieved from EdResearch for Recovery:
Rollins, S. P. (2014). Acceleration: Jump-Starting Students Who are Behind. Retrieved from ASCD: